Policy on Endorsement of Historical Projects (2003)

Adopted by AHA Council. January 2003

Section I. Forms of involvement

The American Historical Association has two forms of involvement in worthy historical projects that sponsors can request. The first is recognition, and is described in Section II. The second is participation or endorsement, and is described in Section III.

Section II. Statement on Recognition for Historical Projects and Involvement in/or Support of Educational Projects

The American Historical Association may acknowledge the worth of a history project seeking to extend history education in new ways or increase the exposure to serious history of a wider public, granting the project the right to state that it has been “recognized by the American Historical Association.” Sponsors of projects seeking this recognition must present a prospectus of their activity and an example of the activity's historical content, to the AHA Teaching Division or to another relevant Division. A favorable evaluation by the Division will be forwarded to the Executive Committee of the AHA for final decision.

Section III. Participation and/or Endorsement

The American Historical Association will directly participate in or formally endorse an educational project when the following guidelines are met:

The history presented should address variety, dissent, alternative opinions, and tools for discussion. A project also should encourage students and teachers to explore the possibility of alternative outcomes in history, and to insist that students understand history as a process of change with many different possible outcomes. The AHA is most supportive of projects that allow teachers to approach the subject with both responsibility and original thoughtfulness. The AHA encourages different philosophical strategies of teaching and the use of primary materials, in addition to secondary sources and textbooks.

The AHA will participate only in educational projects based on an understanding and consideration of the great disparities among states and school systems, teachers and students, and the lack of standardized or equal opportunity in the schools. Disparities in resources (including textbooks and teacher training), as well as disparities in language skill and income level, cannot but create inequities. The AHA will support only educational reform efforts that attempt to meet the wide diversity of students' situations and backgrounds. (See Statement II, Standardized Testing.) The Association encourages new educational initiatives for history that include resources for teacher training.

With regard to the mechanics of its involvement in educational projects, the AHA will participate only in those projects allowing serious consideration of its position as determined by the appropriate elected officers and staff of the Association. The AHA thus will expect, where appropriate, to participate both orally and via written reports. The Association will exercise the right to choose its own representatives to a project and expect the project sponsors to negotiate effectively any problems that the AHA raises about the project.

Section IV. General Criteria

Whether presented for recognition or for AHA endorsement and/or participation, a project should be intellectually sophisticated -- reflecting the need for critical thinking, individual creativity, and careful analysis of historical information (regardless of age level) -- while also being accessible to teachers in a wide variety of situations. A project should treat history as a process of change over time, include a wide variety of interconnected elements, and incorporate the latest historical research. It should treat history as process of interconnected phenomena, including actions, trends, statements, motivations, and belief systems. A project should privilege inclusiveness and interaction, as well as global dimensions wherever possible. (See Statement I, Analytical Skills and Historical Perspectives.)

Section V. Procedures in Responding to Applications

Projects that seek AHA endorsement or participation are referred to the Executive Committee of the AHA Council which serves as the reviewing committee.

Projects that seek AHA recognition are referred to the Teaching Division, whose procedures are as follows. Projects which have substantial merit in expanding the effectiveness of history teaching and/or presenting serious historical issues to wider audiences, may be brought by the AHA Council, Executive Director, or any member of the Division for consideration by the Teaching Division. Application must include a prospectus and examples of the project. The Vice President of the Division may determine that a project is not suitable for formal evaluation or that the press of business prevents evaluation at the time requested. Assuming the application is accepted, preliminary evaluation will be effected by two members of the Division. If they agree on approval, a brief report will be circulated to the Division along with the application materials; the Division may vote by mail, with any member having the right to insist on presentation at one of the regular meetings. Initial evaluators, or the Division as a whole, may ask for clarifications of or changes in the project prior to further proceeding.

Division approval is then subject to the procedures in Section 2.

The Association's endorsement, participation, or recognition can be withdrawn at any time. The Council's Executive Committee will serve as the review committee.

Statement I. Analytical Skills and Historical Perspectives

Alongside essential considerations regarding conceptualization and coverage, history education projects also must delineate the analytical skills and historical ways of thinking that the study of history should develop. History courses should focus on understanding history as process rather than product, on learning how to think historically rather than accumulating facts. Students should see history as open-ended inquiry and debate, and they should learn how to ask their own questions about the past. They also should learn how historical thinking helps them to understand the world of their own times.

The American Historical Association affirms the following principles:

  • Students should develop skills in historical analysis, synthesis, and interpretation, including weighing evidence, identifying historical patterns, establishing cause-and-effect relationships, and drawing sound and balanced conclusions.
  • Students should learn to separate events of lasting significance from ephemeral events, and they should understand that different individuals and groups assess “significance” differently, and they should understand why. They should see that the times in which historians live influence the way history is constructed as new issues rise to significance and old ones decline.
  • Students should appreciate the full range of sources for historical study, including not only print materials but also material culture, moving and still images, folklore, oral history, and other nontraditional sources. These diverse materials should be built into essential cultural comparisons.
  • Students should recognize that the study of history draws on other humanities and social science disciplines. In particular, students should recognize the major patterns of geography and be able to discuss the impact of environment on human development.
  • Students should understand that history is not linear, not a story of “progress,” but rather a complex process of change and continuity characterized by contingency.
  • Students should develop sensitivity to terminology, meaning, and values. They should develop understanding of and respect for--not remorse or guilt over--the varieties of human experience, and they should recognize the validity of multiple perspectives. Students should examine their own value systems and be exposed to the fact that many people living in other cultures do not share their self-perceptions of the role of the United States in the world. U.S. history thus should be taught in a global context, particularly in the twentieth century, and could include other countries' views, both negative and positive, of the United States.
  • Students should understand and value the varied experiences of different cultural areas and understand that a variety of social and cultural forms have functioned effectively. They should understand that decisions are made within specific cultural contexts and that the different trajectories taken by such regions are culturally rooted. It is especially critical that students recognize the particularities and limitations of Western-based paradigms for explaining past experience.
  • Students should recognize the historical roles of both human agency (i.e., the lived experiences of individuals in a particular place and time) and factors that are beyond human control (e.g., the natural environment of the region in which a people lived and had to find food and resources for life).

Statement II. Standardized Testing

On educational assessment projects, the American Historical Association shares many of the concerns of a 1992 report by the Office of Technology Assessment that “it is clear that the pressure to perform on the test can outweigh the stimulus for careful deliberation about academic policy, and that many states could make changes for the sake of higher scores rather than improved learning opportunities for children. This signifies putting the cart of testing before the horse of curriculum . . . .” Moreover great disparities across the nation in educational resources and other variables make problematic the whole idea of a single nationwide assessment. All schools are not equal, and standardized testing without standardized opportunity is unfair. The Office of Technology Assessment warns in its report that “the presentation of comparative scores could lead to intensified school-bashing--even when differences in average State performance are statistically insignificant or when those differences reflect variables far beyond the control of school authorities. Low-scoring States may need real help--financial, organizational, and educational--not just more testing and public humiliation.” Because of current inequities in school resources and differences in school populations, the AHA is wary of the high-stakes accountability tied to allocation of resources. We believe assessment should continue as is, combining both “what is” and “what should be.”

Taking into consideration history as a process, any assessment instrument should emphasize critical thinking skills with basic knowledge. An intrinsic part of the process should be to measure students' development over time. Assessment should not just take a snapshot portrait of student abilities from a very narrow perspective. Essay questions, oral exams, interactive-media, and portfolios that include historical papers and projects need to be the heart of assessment. Multiple-choice questions should be used only for basic fact and elementary content questions, or to assess technical skills needed by historians, such as reading and assessing charts, graphs, timelines, and documents.